Heat defenceman Joe Piskula said it's a 'great challenge' to face the OKC Barons' up-and-coming NHL stars like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Heat notebook: Buzz building for Barons games

The excitement surrounding the Abbotsford Heat's weekend set with the Oklahoma City Barons is simply unprecedented.

The buzz surrounding the Abbotsford Heat’s weekend set with the Oklahoma City Barons is simply unprecedented.

The local AHL club announced via Twitter on Wednesday evening that both games (Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. start both nights, Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre) were sold out.

This marks the first time in Heat franchise history that they’ve sold out against an opponent other than the Vancouver Canucks’ affiliate (the Manitoba Moose in 2009-10 and ’10-11, and the Chicago Wolves the past two seasons).

It’s also just the second time the Heat have sold out back-to-back games – the AESC was filled to its 7,046 capacity for both nights of a Jan. 12-13, 2010 doubleheader vs. the Moose.

The appeal of the Barons games is obvious.

The Edmonton Oilers’ affiliate has been the AHL’s greatest beneficiary of the NHL lockout’s trickle-down effect. They’re stacked with elite NHL-proven youngsters, including former No. 1 overall draft choices Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, and stunningly skilled sniper Jordan Eberle.

It’s been rookie pro Justin Schultz, though, who has been the most impressive of the Barons’ up-and-comers. The defenceman, who garnered interest from all 30 NHL teams when he tested the free agent market out of the University of Wisconsin in the spring, leads the AHL in scoring with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 10 games.

BARONS OFFER MEASURING STICK FOR HEAT

As excited as local fans are to see the Barons, there’s also plenty of buzz in the Heat locker room.

“It’s a good opportunity for our team and individuals to showcase themselves,” defenceman Joe Piskula noted. “If you want to play in the NHL, these are some of the future NHL stars, and you get to see where you measure up to guys like that. It’s a huge opportunity for yourself to see that, and obviously for your management and coaches to see that, as well.

“It’s a great challenge, and you’ve got to get pumped about that.”

For his part, Heat head coach Troy Ward isn’t particularly concerned with the opponent – he’s just eager to see continued growth from his team. But he believes his players will get caught up in the hype to a certain extent as Friday’s game approaches.

“You have an interest as a player to peek out in pregame skate, and it’s like, ‘Oh, there he is. Geez, he is fast,'” Ward said.

Ward called the Barons games “a unique measuring stick” for his charges.

“From a player’s perspective, I’m going to find out this weekend if I can play in the National Hockey League or not, at least in a snapshot way,” Ward noted. “Can I defend them one-on-one? Can I beat them up on the wall?”

BYRON BOUNCING BACK

Paul Byron (pictured right) could make his return to the Heat lineup this weekend.

The 23-year-old centre suffered an upper body injury prior to training camp, but he’s been a full participant in practice the past week and a half.

“It’s something that happened in the summer while I was skating and training, something fluky,” Byron explained. “I didn’t really think much of the injury, and I actually didn’t find out I was hurt until about a month later, so I was training with it, too.”

Ward said Byron could crack the lineup vs. the Barons if his conditioning and timing are up to snuff, and the Ottawa native said he’s ready.

“I feel really good,” said Byron, who posted 21 points in 39 games with the Heat last season. “Fitness-wise, I worked out pretty hard with the strength coach while the team was on the road, and I skated pretty hard. This week was more about the timing back and getting into the rhythm of things. I think I’ve done a good job the last three days.

“To be able to start playing again and not be watching from the stands is pretty exciting.”

Heat forwards Greg Nemisz (lower body) and Lance Bouma (sprained right knee) are still out.

FACIAL HAIR ON THE GROW

Heat players are participating in Movember, the annual moustache-growing campaign to raise awareness and funds to fight prostate cancer and other men’s health issues.

Piskula, sporting a burgeoning lip sweater, handicapped the Heat’s stache-growing contest.

“Definitely not (rookie winger Michael) Ferland,” he said with a chuckle. “I think he’s maybe got a couple hairs on there. But there’s a couple good ones – (Brady) Lamb grows a lot of facial hair. It’s going to be a tight race.”

For information on how to join the Heat’s Movember group, visit abbotsfordheat.com/movember.

Just Posted

Abbotsford lags behind when it comes to voting opportunities

Most mid-sized B.C. cities provide more advance polls and mail-in ballots, analysis finds

Championship Saturday set for APD city tournament

Games running starting at 9 a.m. at Abbotsford’s Columbia Bible College

Abbotsford Children’s Theatre presents Beauty and the Beast

Production on Dec. 14 and 15 at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium

Songs, Strings and Steps presents An Irish Christmas

Concerts at Gateway Church in Abbotsford on Dec. 14 and 15

Best Friends: How pets can improve the lives of Abbotsford’s homeless

Responsibility over a cat or dog makes Gary Hull take fewer risks and take better care of himself

Trudeau to make it harder for future PM to reverse Senate reforms

Of the 105 current senators, 54 are now independents who have banded together in Independent Senators’ Group

Light at the end of the tunnel for UN climate talks

Meeting in Katowice was meant to finalize how countries report their emissions of greenhouses gases

Gas prices to climb 11 cents overnight in Lower Mainland

Hike of 17 cents in less than 48 hours due to unexpected shutdown of Washington state pipeline

Supreme Court affirms privacy rights for Canadians who share a computer

Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Canadians against unreasonable search and seizure

Janet Jackson, Def Leppard, Nicks join Rock Hall of Fame

Radiohead, the Cure, Roxy Music and the Zombies will also be ushered in at the 34th induction ceremony

B.C. fire chief pleads with Ottawa for traumatic stress support

Campbell River fire chief Thomas Doherty presented concerns to federal government

37% of Metro Vancouver sees real estate industry as ‘extremely corrupt’

Report comes as the B.C. government continues to probe alleged links of money laundering in casinos to real estate

‘I practically begged’: Kootenay woman with breast cancer denied referral to Calgary

Breast cancer patient left to fight disease alone after being denied referral to Calgary

21 detained before Paris protests as police deploy in force

There was a strong police presence outside the central Saint Lazare train station, where police in riot gear checked bags

Most Read